A Hackathon Approach to Supply Chain Disruption

Written By: Matt Lieberson
April 28, 2021
4 min read

In modern business, one of the biggest challenges is solving problems that didn’t even exist before. This has hammered home the importance of supply chain optimization, with the amount of disruption over the last year proving just how critical it is to be ready for anything. After 12 months with disruption ranging from a pandemic to a key shipping route blocked, nobody knows what may alter supply chains next.

Martin Weis, supply chain expert from McKinsey and Company, believes that organizations need to have their plans for disruption ready before the disruption even hits. As he said on our recent episode of the Age of Agility podcast, “The first sign of agility is that you have options.”

But reacting to disruption and having options ready to go requires speed – something that was not often a strong point in supply chain digital transformation projects.

“In former times, maybe we did a design of our solution in two months and implemented it in four to six months,” Martin pointed out. With the pandemic causing immediate havoc on supply chains (and our lives as a whole), “this all had to be done in two weeks or so.”

So how can supply chain professionals make rapid changes in their organization and reduce this time to pivot to new solutions? Looking to technology companies, and embracing their ‘hackathon mindset.’

Working at speed

A hackathon, a short-term project or competition designed to deliver solutions to a problem as quickly as possible, is focused on quick deliverables and rapid, easy-to-deploy solutions. This is in the muscle memory of tech companies, who also often use sprint planning to focus on immediate deliverables in a short time frame. By embracing this mindset, supply chain organizations can solve problems quickly and better react to potential turmoil.

“When we do a sprint, it’s a mini-hackathon, and this is what we see in the workflows now,” Martin said about how to work quickly. “Companies have to be very flexible, and [this kind of process] will change the way we work.”

Cross-functional teamwork

To build effective solutions in short order, perspectives from the entire organization need to be taken into account and incorporated on the fly. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the strength of supply chain organizations.

Martin says that that traditionally, in supply chain management, processes are designed for people who are sitting together. Procurement, logistics, manufacturing teams were all working close together physically, and collaboration was as simple as walking down the hall. But when work moved to remote on a dime, supply chains needed to be able to collaborate in new ways to have supply chain visibility. “The workforce in supply chains had to be very flexible,” Martin shared.

With a hackathon mindset, people are more used to getting together in smaller, cross-functional ‘task-force’ style teams. By working cross-functionally in smaller teams, people across departments can ensure their perspectives are taken into account, but will not be bogged down by bureaucracy and struggling to communicate across departments.

The right tools for the job

Building solutions is also made easier by allowing those without technical knowledge to tap into their expertise. Having the ability to do this takes having the right tech stack, and this goes beyond ERP systems. While an ERP solution is great, it can be difficult to navigate without technical experience. By leveraging low-code tools, your supply chain teams can tap into citizen development, able to build solutions themselves without having to utilize IT resources or have coding skills. When your team needs a solution for a specific problem ASAP, having the resources to do it yourself will cut down on the time-to-market.

“Low-code platforms provide a faster and more agile way to really work on small solutions and maybe to solve problems which are so business specific,” Martin said. If you have a specific need with one specific construction company, for example, you can use low-code tools to customize that workflow.

This approach will put action behind the evident importance of supply chain optimization. A hackathon mindset will bring the tools, teamwork, and ability for speed to supply chain organizations who are building agility and flexibility. Looking to this model, instead of feeling stuck with old, slow methods for change, will ensure that whatever the next crisis is, your supply chain is resilient and ready to respond.

Matt Lieberson
Written By: Matt Lieberson

Matt Lieberson is a Content Marketing Manager at Quickbase.